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Roles of a Mental Health Nurse

A guide to what it means to be a mental health nurse
Written on 8/20/13

Mental health nurses form a crucial part of Britain's healthcare system, positively affecting the lives of thousands of patients every day. The role can be exhausting both physically and mentally but offers huge rewards, as nurses work to directly improve the lives of their patients on a daily basis.

Duties and responsibilities

Mental health nurse jobs place individuals in a huge variety of work environments, including hospital wards, homes, outpatient departments, residential units and community drop-in centres. Opportunities for employment are available across the NHS but also in the private sector, the prison system and the military. Caring for patients with mental illness - from the very young to the very old - presents unique challenges, which typically include:

  • Caring for patients with acute conditions - building relationships and responding to their physical and emotional needs, while delivering effective care.
  • Administering patients' medications and treatments - and monitoring results.
  • Dealing with the specific symptoms of mental illness, de-escalating stressful situations and helping patients overcome challenges.
  • Interacting with patients' families and other care staff - offering advice and information on patients' conditions.
  • Preparing and maintaining patients records, producing care plans and risk assessments.
  • Organizing group therapy sessions, including social and artistic events, aimed at promoting patients' mental recovery.

The specific demands placed on a mental health nurse are different in every posting. To cope with the demands of the role and the needs of their patients, a mental health nurse needs to be energetic, perceptive, versatile and compassionate. Mental health nurses will be required to work around the lives of their patients, which often means long or unsociable hours and travel between locations. Most mental health postings test the strength of a nurse's character and personality regularly.

What qualifications do I need?

With such a strong emphasis on communication and interpersonal relationships, the skills required of a mental health nurse differ from those of a general registered nurse. Like a registered nurse, however, mental health nurses must hold a degree qualification - as a Bachelor of Nursing or Mental Health. Mental health nursing degrees are available at higher education institutions across the country and involve specific academic content, designed to prepare students for the demands of the role.

Entry to courses involves a written application and an interview - applicants will need to prepare a personal statement but may strengthen their chances with volunteer work in local hospitals. Mental health nursing degrees place students in classrooms and work environments - ensuring academic and practical experience is received.

Careers in nursing

Once qualified, mental health nurses can choose to follow a number of different career paths - heading into ward nursing or working in dedicated psychiatric units. The challenges and opportunities can be exciting - prospective nurses should think carefully about the direction they want their career to move in. 

Demand for nurses in the UK's healthcare industry is currently high and working nurses will have plenty of opportunities to move up the ladder into advanced nursing positions. In some cases, healthcare institutions will help employees move into a nursing career, with financial assistance for training.